Thursday, September 3, 2009

Legislation and Morality

This is an essay I wrote recently, and thought I'd share. ;) Just so you know- it is written from a Christian perspective, and towards Christians. If you can't handle that, don't read it. ;)

Morality. Legislation. The First Amendment. ACLU cases. The Christian Right. The discussions linked with these subjects could go on for millennia. With that in mind, I don’t think I can offer anything new or revolutionary on this subject…but I’m rather tired of having to present my views over and over again. So this work could be considered the writings of an exasperated teenager who doesn’t want to keep explaining the same stuff.

The question I will be dealing with is this- do we, or do we not, have the Constitutional right to make rules and laws on the basis of matters of conscience? I would say no, and this is my attempt to explain why.

For starters, I would like to say a word to the Christian reader- I am morally and ethically opposed to many of the issues I outline in these pages. Personally, the idea of a thing like homosexuality or drug abuse instantly give me strong feelings of disgust and pity for the poor souls trapped in the system. The thought of abortion gives me the feeling of nausea, coupled with indignation on behalf of the babies whose lives are so atrociously cut off in the very beginnings of life.

Note that in this work, when I refer to ‘Christians’, I am speaking of those that ascribe to some form of Christian denomination, be it Episcopalian, Mormon, Catholic, or Baptist.

Moral Explanation

I would like to say a word about the nature of morality. Morality, or moral, is defined as “concerned with principles of right and wrong or conforming to standards of behavior and character based on those principles.” It could also be defined as “a personal system or code of behavior, governed by the conscience.” We will operate on these definitions.

An example of a moral issue would be homosexuality or abortion, and drug or alcohol use. These things are governed only by one’s own conscience and vision of morality.
God and You versus God and the Government

There is a substantial difference between the personal relationship between the Christian and God and the relationship between God and the government, or God and the American people. God cannot have a ‘relationship’, per se, with the last two at all- they are, by their very nature, incorporeal and incompatible with the nature of God.

God is an individual persuasion. If you believe in God, only you can believe in God. That belief cannot carry on to your children through DNA, that belief cannot bleed into the people around you merely because of your proximity to them. In the same way, you cannot force a belief of God on or into those around you.

A true belief cannot be forced, in any account. A forced conversion is no conversion at all. In fact, God wants us to choose Him, not come to Him through force, coercion, or any other means besides a willing, conscious decision to seek Him.

In the Bible, there are several references where God states His thoughts on choosing- in this context, choosing who you would serve. Joshua 24:15, Proverbs 1:29, Proverbs 3:31, and Isaiah 7:15 all talk about a person’s ‘choice’- be it good or bad, it will be rewarded or punished by God, and God alone. God also gave us thinking minds, He did not make us robots. He intended us to think and reason with ourselves about His existence.

But by trying to force our moral beliefs about what God has said, or what we think is good, we are literally trying to force our Bible, religion, and God down others’ throats.

The first amendment of the United States constitution strictly forbids religious (moral) favoritism by the government. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Notice this does not prohibit individual governmental officials and employees from engaging in religious activities outside work nor, really, from making mention of God in public discourse.

The kinds of things that would be out of keeping with this amendment would be ritualized, proscribed prayer- to any god- in a public school, the witnessing to a student by a teacher, or an instance like ‘Roy’s Rock’

The First Amendment and Other Religions

Christians often throw temper tantrums because the government ‘favors other religions’- although it doesn’t, and can’t. I remember an unsubstantiated story I once heard. It talked about an unnamed school where Muslim children were permitted to bow to Mecca, in accordance with their religious beliefs, but Christian children were not permitted to bow their heads in prayer to God.

It is a story overtly designed to spark righteous indignation on behalf of the poor, persecuted little Christian children. The only problem with this rumor is that it’s not true. Nowhere have I found evidence substantiating this piece of Christian Right propaganda. Such a case as the one outlined above would be inherently and blatantly against the first amendment.

The story above brings out the great ‘fighting spirit’ in many. But what if the story went more like this- “There was this school where Christian children were permitted to pray to God, but Muslim children were ostracized and persecuted because they were not permitted to bow to Mecca.”

I can almost guarantee that, if the situation were to be so reversed, the reaction would be quite different in Christian circles. There would be no reaction; rather, the teachers would be acclaimed as heroes of the faith.

It is a sad trend that I have observed- often Christians seem to be under the impression that the first amendment grants freedom of religion and belief only to those of the Judeo-Christian persuasion. They seem to think the first amendment goes something like this- “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, unless that religion be Christianity, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, unless it be a belief contrary to Christianity.” Often, with this skewed reading, Christians see themselves as being persecuted when, really, they’re just not being given the preferred place in our country’s religious (or political) sphere.

As hard as it is for some to admit it, we do have alternate belief systems in this country. Wikipedia has a list of the most prevalent religions in the United States. According to their statistics, out of the three hundred million people in the US, some forty percent of the population do not ascribe to Christian beliefs. Sixteen percent don’t even believe in a god! Do we deny the rights of that forty percent simply because we think we are right?

Private and Individual Morality

As we established earlier, morality is a private conviction. One’s view and standards of morality are as individual as one’s fingerprint. Even Christians, who use God’s standard of morality, differ in some ways on what is right and wrong.

Since morality is so individual, why do so many think we should enforce morality on others, whether through the law or religious suppression? That is akin to trying to make everyone drive the same car. But who decides which car? Do we make everyone drive a fifteen passenger van because some families need them, or do we go with a smaller five-seater car? Once we decide that, what maker do we go with- Ford, Dodge, Chevy? Everyone’s needs and wants are completely different, and we cannot make such a decision for them.

Trying to enforce a vision of morality is not feasible, for the simple reason that there are millions of individual beliefs about morality. Whose morality do we enforce?
One True Morality

Human beings as a whole have an innate desire to want to enforce what they want on the people around them. It’s a perfectly human impulse, and Christians are not immune to it. In fact, in some ways, we’re more susceptible to it, since often times we have the tendency to get into the attitude of “I read the Bible, so I’m righteous!”

Every human goes to some source for his or her beliefs and morality. Be it the teachings of a prophet, a holy book, or just an inner conviction, all morality traces back to something. Christians go to the Bible. I do as well. I believe the Bible was divinely inspired by God, the Creator of the universe.

When debating what should or should not be legislated, Christians often simply run to the Bible. There is no doubt that the Bible holds valuable, enlightened, divine moral guidance. But as I’ve said before, it is but one view of morality out of thousands, and it is not our guidebook in this country as a whole. I believe it is the true view of morality, but my neighbor may not. Can I impose my view of morality on him?

Moral Societal Issues

Abortion. Gay Marriage. Drug use. Alcohol use. Smoking. Divorce. Adultery.

All these things are, or were divisive, controversial issues. At one time or another, since the beginning of time, people have attempted to end social ills, whether via evangelization, legislation, or conquest.

The moral issues outlined above are a bit fuzzier than other, more clear moral issues, like murder or theft. When someone murders another, they have clearly violated the rights of the murdered individual. Hence, they lose their rights beyond those afforded prisoners- silence, counsel, and trial. Some religious expressions, such as a jihad, would fall under the jurisdiction of murder laws- the jihadist has taken the rights of another individual, and so loses his own.

In the issues above however, the only person who is harmed is the person himself. He is harming his own body. Beyond repair, perhaps, but if he wishes to take such sweeping liberties with his body, he is the one who will have to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Spiritually, of course, there are consequences. He is harming not only himself, but the people around him- spiritually. In a secular sense however (the way our government should look at things), the only person who is harmed is that individual.

Some say that things like drugs or alcohol so alter someone’s mind that they can hurt others. But if they do, they must take responsibility, regardless. If they kill someone driving drunk, they will have to step up and face the music. But that’s only an ‘if.’ Just because something can happen when one is drunk, doesn’t mean it will.

Christians throughout history have tried to push their ideas of morality upon the general population. The Puritans passed laws against dancing, drinking, and adultery- and made the non-Puritans in the colony abide by them as well, creating quite a bit of resentment. While yes, drinking and adultery are unchristian, not everyone is Christian.

The history of freedom of religion and moral legislation is quite interesting, especially in light of the ‘Christian Right’ movement today. During the early years of our Republic, they were not even interested in outlawing anything. In fact, the Baptists were some of the most outspoken proponents of the first amendment and its freedom of religion clause!

It was a long time before anyone wanted to push for morally-based legislation. That was when legislation like prohibition came about. But Christians significantly changed. At first, they were dead-set on outlawing things like adultery and smoking. Then it became divorce and drinking. Obviously, divorce has become quite normal, and drinking is not quite as big a lobby nowadays, and the accepted bandwagons at this time are homosexuality and drugs. Why the change?

Of course, we have not only Christian moral legislation, but liberal moral legislation. Granted, their moral issues are significantly different from Christians’. They place more emphasis on helping the poor and third world countries- commendable goals. Besides that, we have Buddhist morality, Confucian morality, Muslim morality…
But whose morality do we decide on?

Legislating Morality

So is legislating morality ever right? And most importantly, is it Constitutional?

Legislation is commonly understood to be laws- laws that are already on the books, or proposed laws. From what we now understand of the nature of morality, I think it is safe to say that legislating morality cannot feasibly be done. The many acknowledged moralities and religions make it virtually impossible to legislate according to them.

The Constitution strictly forbids the establishment of a religion. Included in that clause would be the instatement of religiously motivated, or morally motivated laws.

If not Legislation, then What?

So if we’re not going to legislate to rid ourselves of the immoral acts in our midst, then what do we do? Do we sit idly by and permit it?

Far from it. We have the greatest ally in the universe, who works everyday in lives and hearts. It is His responsibility to work in hearts, not the government’s. By wishing to institute morality-based laws we are, in effect, attempting to force the government to play Holy Spirit.

In fact, the only way to cure moral issues is through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. If you truly wish to see a change, you must evangelize and witness, and let the Holy Spirit do His work- rather than forcing the government to do it for Him. The only way to get people to see the error of their ways is through evangelization and the working of Holy Ghost- not the working of my local representative.

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Kendra Logan said...

I don't have time to read all of it right now, but I read some of it, and you have very interesting thoughts! You do express yourself well.

I agree with many things you have said, but one thing I do not agree with: the government *does* favor other religions. Schools in my area do not allow students to mention God or Jesus, but students of other religions are allowed to do nearly whatever they want.

In public, workers at stores are no longer allowed to say "Merry Christmas", but I'm sure they would be allowed to say other things of that sort.

Although we’d prefer not to think so, Christianity is severely suffering from reverse discrimination.


Liberty said...

"In public, workers at stores are no longer allowed to say "Merry Christmas", but I'm sure they would be allowed to say other things of that sort."

It's not that they are not allowed. They say 'Happy Holidays' because there are at least five other major holidays around Christmas. We celebrate Christmas, yes, but the person behnd us in line may celebrate Hannukah or Kwanzaa.

If you're having a problem with being unable to pray in your school, contact the ACLU. If you really ARE being discriminated against, and have proof, then they will take the case.

Bard said...

Two things:

1. If a business (store) tells their employees it is their policy to say Happy Holidays and NOT Merry Christmas, nobody’s rights have been violated. The store is not part of the government and nobody is forcing people to work there, it is their choice. Most folks object to some policy where they work.

2. The government should not legislate morality by having "hate crimes", "hate speech", Affirmative action, EEOC, or a federal law defining marriage. Abortion does not fall into this because it is murder.